As footballers we get used to the hits. From timid beginnings in schoolyards, backyards and local clubs, we train ourselves to take them and inflict them on our opponents.
Here and there little bits of armour are added. The whip-crack thud of bodies colliding can be unsettling at first, but after a while we begin to rely on the bumps and bruises. There is a curious comfort and satisfaction that comes with the aches and pains earned from the weekend’s game.
Eventually the game passes all of us by and we might start to wonder, in our quiet moments, how will we get on in life without them? We train our whole lives to take those hits.
‘To watch a strong Indigenous man continually keep getting up and playing on, so beautifully, despite the abhorrent sound of a racist minority has been something to behold.’
Adam Goodes is one of my heroes. He’s a hero to so many footballers I play alongside, too. If it were simply down to his skills and ability as a footballer, he’s a superstar. An icon of the modern game.
But I use the word hero on behalf of my brethren of AFL players to articulate how we feel about him in our hearts. He’s a hero because he’s got chin.
The growing, insidious trend of people booing Adam at football stadiums around the country has hurt a lot of people. I can’t talk on behalf of Adam or his people, nor would I want to. I’m talking on behalf of his comrades, who run with him and against him on the field of play.
To watch a strong Indigenous man continually keep getting up and playing on, so beautifully, despite the abhorrent sound of a racist minority has been something to behold.
I once watched a documentary called Facing Ali. It was a set of interviews with the men who fought Muhummad Ali in the ring throughout his illustrious and controversial career. I love listening to professionals talk about their peers; they know things the rest of us don’t.
One thing that kept coming through in these interviews was the respect they all had for Ali because he could take a punch on the chin. Pages upon pages have been written about Ali’s ability to hit, dance and even talk with unrivalled beauty, rhythm and charisma. So dazzling were his natural talents that I’d foolishly never looked too far beyond them.
In the gritty facial expressions of his one-time foes, in the emotion in their voices, I could feel the true admiration they had for Ali, the greatest of them all, who could take the hardest hits as well as giving them back.
As footballers, time weakens us all. Just getting out of bed in July seems harder than the year before. But we get to the line – it’s what we’re trained to do.
This round we will be missing one. The weight and pain Adam has carried was seemingly too much. Every time I’ve heard the boos of this mob I’ve hung my head in despair, chin to chest. I suspect it’s been the same for some players at every club in the AFL. There is no training or armour for those kinds of hits to the soul.
Hopefully this weekend Adam can feel the support he has around him from those who play alongside him. What can players do? How will we show Goodesy that it’s not all up to him? We can stand next to him and his brothers and stick out our chin.
This article was originally published in The Age and can be accessed here.